Courts - Indiana Federal judge asked to rule on graduation prayer

GREENWOOD, Ind. (AP) -- A central Indiana school district has asked a federal judge whether it should go ahead with a planned high school graduation prayer, which most of the senior class wants but its top-ranked student opposes.

Greenwood High School will not call off the student-led prayer unless the judge orders it, Greenwood School Board president Joe Farley said.

"We just feel like it's the right thing to do," Farley said.

Senior Eric Workman has asked a federal judge to stop the prayer the senior class voted to approve. The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on the 18-year-old's behalf claims the prayer and class vote unconstitutionally subject religious practice to majority rule.

The ACLU contends that even if students choose not to participate in the graduation prayer, they are still being subjected to the prayer and compelled to participate, if only by being expected to stand respectfully, said Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Indiana.

Workman is ranked at the top of his class academically and is expected to speak during graduation, according to the lawsuit. A prayer could be particularly uncomfortable for someone sitting on the stage who does not want to participate, Falk said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that public schools could not invite clergy to say prayers during high school graduations. The Court said a graduation prayer would pressure students to stand or be respectfully quiet, which could be viewed as participation.

Dissenting judges questioned why the same rules that applied to the pledge of allegiance in public school wouldn't apply to prayer at a public school graduation. The pledge uses the phrase "under God" but is not banned from schools or graduation ceremonies. Students may simply choose not to participate.

Then in 2000, the Supreme Court ruled students in Texas could not say prayers over the public-address system during football games. The decision centered on whether students could vote to allow prayer at a public school function. The Court said despite a student vote, the prayer still would be viewed as school-sponsored because it was said on school property by a speaker representing the student body.

The school district has until April 16 to respond to the lawsuit, and a court hearing is scheduled for April 30. The district's attorneys didn't return telephone messages seeking comment Friday.

Published: Tue, Apr 6, 2010


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